Wanna know what the worst feeling in the world is? It’s working hard and putting a lot of effort into something, only to later find out that you did it incorrectly. That’s the worst! No effort and no results is ok – I can accept that. Or much effort and positive results – that is what we want. But lots of effort and then no results…THAT IS THE WORST!
As one author put it, “it’s like climbing to the top of ladder only to later realize that you’re at the wrong house.”
Every dad who has ever tried to assemble a toy or piece of furniture for his kids knows this feeling. You read the instructions, try to follow them as precisely as you can, break your back in the process and then get to step 38 and find out….
…you did something wrong in step 2 and you need to go back and undo everything since then. AHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Again, “it’s like climbing to the top of ladder only to later realize that you’re at the wrong house.”
How about spiritually? How do we know if we’re doing it right? Is there a way to check our progress along to make sure that we’re on the right track? Or do we just have to wait until the end (step 38 of our lives) and hope for the best?
This morning I read a passage from Philippians 2 that helps answer this question.
“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:1-5)
What’s the measure of success in Christianity? How do I know if I’m doing it right? I go to church… I read my Bible… I pray when I can… I try to be a good person. How do I know if I’m succeeding or not?
The answer = UNSELFISH LOVE
I usually don’t like to use the word love in spiritual contexts because I’ve discovered that everyone defines it differently. In the same breath, one might say “I love my wife, I love my dog, I love the Redskins and I love the dollar menu at McDonalds.”
You might call them all “love’ but clearly there’s a difference between your feelings towards your wife, your pet, your consistently overpromising and underachieving football team, and your favorite choice for date nights.
So when St. Paul pleads with us here to be “like-minded” and to have “the same love,” he doesn’t leave it to us to define as we please. He gives us two characteristics – one positive (what it is) and one negative (what it isn’t) – to help us understand what that love looks like.
1. “Let nothing be done out of selfish ambition or conceit”
2. “Esteem others better than oneself”
Conceit is defined as ‘excessive pride in one’s own worth or goodness.’ It is the first of all vices and the most deadly as well. It destroyed Lucifer when he was an angel in heaven (see Isaiah 14:12-15) and it later reared its ugly head in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3:1-6).
It is therefore the root of all evil in the world and unfortunately it lies within each us – a disease that we’ve inherited as part of our corrupt nature. And this disease comes out in the form of selfish ambition – always looking out for our own interests and seeking our own good.
Our goal in life is to be cured of this disease. That is why Christ took flesh – to come into the world and to heal us of this sickness. He came as a Physician to bring healing – not just for our bodies, but for our souls as well.
But how do we know if we’re getting better? How do we know if we’re nearing the cure?
It isn’t by what we know or what verses we can recite. It isn’t by how much we go to church or how much we stand in prayer. Those are all good things and tools along the way, but the measure of success is UNSELFISH LOVE. That is what shows us whether or not we’re “doing it right.”
Maybe we need to take a step back and evaluate where we’re at. Are we doing this right or not? Am I growing in love or not? Is my prayer and my Bible reading and my church going translating into unselfish love? Or is it just leading me to more conceit and selfish ambition? It’s always better to take that step back and evaluate BEFORE getting to step 38.
As the old motto of toy-building and furniture-assembling dads says, “Measure twice, cut once.”
For discussion: how would you define the idea of unselfish love? What does it look like to you?